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The Key to a Successful Trip

I changed my mind about closing up shoppe on this trip’s narrative.

What more could there be to report?  What could go wrong?  We merely had to find the car in Florence, find the way back to the flat, pack, negotiate our way out of Florence, cross six or eight hundred kilometers of Italy, Austria, and Germany, find the hotel “near the Munich airport” we booked on-line, turn in the rental car, board the plane, fly home.

And we pretty much did all that.  We got out of Florence without incident.  We drove through beautiful high Tuscan hills north of town.  We drove through startling high-walled gorges on the approach to Bolzano.  We saw numerous castles perched on dramatic ledges.  We traversed the Brenner Pass, and of course it started raining when we were in the mountains.

Outside Innsbruck we went through a construction zone where the lanes were squeezed.  The left lane was so narrow there couldn’t’ve been much more than a centimeter to spare combined between the barrier on the left and the lorries on the right.  It was so tight, in fact, that when I passed one lorry (at about 80 kph) everybody in the car had to close their eyes, myself included.

On the approach to Munich, I finally hit an open stretch of the Autobahn where I was able to push it to 165 kph (for about two kilometers, before traffic started piling up again).  We found the hotel with a minimum of wrong turns.

Then a funny thing happened when we got up the next morning to pack up.  “Where’s the car key?”  In the ensuing panic we unpacked suitcases and went through pants pockets, to no avail.  Searched every drawer and surface in the hotel room (which was actually a four-room apartment).  Nothing.

Finally, I went out to the car, where, lo and behold, the car key was still in the doorlock.

It is only funny because the car was still there.

This time I mean it.  Auf wiedersehen.

Under a Tuscan Cloud

Before the clouds rolled in last night we had dinner at I Cche Ce Ce, a little restaurant near our flat that came highly recommended.

It deserved the accolades; it was the best meal I had on the trip.  Very nice, attentive, and accommodating wait staff, excellent food, reasonable prices.  They started us off with glasses of Proseco on the house, and finished with a grappa.  In between, I had Tuscan bean soup, followed by Osso Bucco.  For dessert we obtained cannoli from the little sweet shop in the alley next door to our apartment building.

Somewhere in the middle of the night we were awakened by thunder, which echoed through our alleyway.  After opening the shutters, I was able to time the lightning strikes and none were more than a kilometer away.

The storm rumbled on for an hour or more.  When we got up for our bike trip, it had stopped raining, but it started drizzling while we were walking to the Tuscan Bike Tours office.  We boarded vans and rode through driving rain to the castle where the tour starts.  Actually, the van ride was a nice tour in itself.

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It was uncertain whether we could take the bike tour because of the weather, so we toured the castle, which is just a front for wine-making (Chianti) and olive oil production.  One olive tree yields a half-litre of extra virgin olive oil.  (How are extra virgins counted in a martyr’s afterlife?)  They took us to the top of the tower (outdoors) when suddenly lightning started to close in.  The guides got very worried looks on their faces and tried to usher everybody back down the stairs.

Startled tour goer dodges bolts.

Startled tour goer dodges bolts.

Just as soon as we all got inside there was a flash/boom combo that might very well have hit the lightning rod on the roof.  So we went back downstairs where they poured us the local wine and served us olives, grapes, and olive oil on bread, and we resigned ourselves to the van ride back.

Then it stopped raining.  We road downhill for the first few minutes, and stopped for lunch:  salad, three kinds of pasta, dessert, and of course more wine.  Then we started the climb back to the castle.

Vera and Rebecca admire each other's attire.

Vera and Rebecca admire each other’s attire.

Rebecca’s bike, incidentally came with a flat tire, but they switched out her bike.

Becky Armstrong

Becky Armstrong

When we got to the steep part of the return route, most of us, myself included, took the van instead of  pedaling, except for four.  Only one woman pedaled up, but at least I wasn’t the only man to wuss out.

Tuscan grape country

Tuscan grape country

Tuscan grapes

Tuscan grapes

Just before we got back to the castle (all aboard bikes) the bottom fell out.  My shoes are soaked, so I’m not sure how I’m going to wear them home.

This concludes this portion of Filbert Hockey’s Travels.  Stay tuned for the exciting photo gallery coming soon.  It should include dozens, if not hundreds, of shots of the same subject from minutely different perspectives.

Arrivederci.

The Big Guy

That refers either to Michelangelo’s David or to the sandwich I had for lunch.  I’ll let you decide, but I should point out we got one apiece (sandwich) and we still have 1.5 sandwich remaining.

There is only one David, though there are myriad copies.

David

David

David vs. Sandwich

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The day was spent in the Galleria dell ‘Accademia (home of the David), the Basicala di Santa Maria del Fiore (the church with the big dome), and the Galleria degli Uffizi (home of Venus on the Halfshell).

Birth of Venus

Birth of Venus

We also went into a couple of other churches, one of which was a converted grainery and was square instead of cross shaped.  It was actually more interesting inside than the Duomo, which mostly has size going for it.

Alter in the grain church.

Alter in the grain church.

After a week of walking on stone streets, including three trips in one day up the hill across the Arno that overlooks the city, my back is sore.  Next we ride bikes through the Tuscan countryside.

I’ll conclude today’s entry with pictures (in most cases pictures of pictures).  Pithy comments extra.

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Stradivarius viola.

Stradivarius viola

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Playing it

Fat baby Jesus.

Fat baby Jesus

Imagine how some religions would react to such a depiction of their major prophet.

Rare panel by Michelangelo

Rare panel by Michelangelo

Helga among the Rembrandts.

Helga among the Rembrandts.

Self portraits.

Self portraits.

Pretty sure I did that same shot surreptitiously in Raleigh a few years back.

Neat arrangement in the sculpture training room.

Neat arrangement in the sculpture training room.

Translation is "Little Larry"

Translation is “Little Larry”

Finding Florence

Have you ever been walking through a narrow Italian alleyway and had to squeeze to the side to let a car pass?  An idiot driver who had no business being there?WP_20140908_002  Have some sympathy for that idiot.

That idiot was me.

We made it without incident from Ravenna to Florence, even getting into the right part of town after taking the wrong exit off the autostrade.  Finding our flat was a different story.  Rebecca had a map and a very close approximation of our destination,  but we had no clue where we were.

So I started zigzagging toward, and eventually across, the Arno River (oops, wrong side).

It was considerably more stressful than the ride through the mountains had been.

At one point we actually stopped about twenty feet from the flat, but I was too nervous about having a car in that spot and high-tailed it out of the center of the city (no pedestrians were harmed in the making of this blog).

We did finally get to the flat, and Rebecca really outdid herself in lining up this one.  Lots of space, two bedrooms, sitting room, and kitchen (can’t quite figure out the washing machine), but the piece de résistance (not Italian) is the rooftop deck.

View from the deck.

View from the deck.

If you’re not familiar with Florence, that’s the duomo out there, the singular landmark of the city.  You can see most of the other landmarks from up there, too.

We took a quick (three-hour, Gilligan) tour this morning, including walking past the highlights of the city and across the old bridge Hitler opted not to destroy, where they sell gold jewelry now.  In keeping with our chance encounters motif, we met one of Rebecca’s fellow lobbyists from the N.C. General Assembly at the tour headquarters.

The churches we tried to visit today were closed for siesta, or something, when we got there.  We did find multiple copies of Michelangelo’s David, including one at his namesake garden which overlooks the city.

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View of Firenze from Michelangelo Garden.

Vinezia

Sorry for the delay.  Left my input device in the car in the Venice parking lot, so I did not get access to it until now, which is in Ravenna.

WP_20140903_001First, let me tell you about how we got to Venice.  Obviously, that picture is not Venice.  It’s a high mountain pass.  When we left Ortisei we had the option of backtracking to the Autostrade or driving through the Dolomites.  I opted for the mountainous route, not necessarily the popular choice.

It was dicey enough driving up a twisting one-lane road with tour buses coming in the opposite direction, but when we found ourselves on a road the number of which did not match the sketchy directions I’d gotten from Google, tensions started to rise.

With a reinforcing opinion from one innkeeper along the way, we made it out of the mountains on what was one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever driven, even though it was cloudy most of the way.  The last stretch was through a gorge inhabited by eagle owls (we did not see).

Rebecca and Helga on the Vaperetto.

Rebecca and Helga on the Vaperetto.

Venice turned out to be enchanting, probably because we bought passes for the water bus for the duration of our stay.  On our first ride we took the main Vaporetto to the end of the line, expecting to stay on and head back the other way.  But they made us get off, so we took the next boat, which turned out to be going in the wrong direction.  We got a nice tour of the other side of the islands we would otherwise have missed.

We had a very nice apartment.WP_20140903_004  It was just off one of the main drags, but it was isolated.  Out its windows was a canal.  It had a courtyard and a “bus stop” and grocery store nearby.  It was also near the casino where I dropped 10 Euros on the blackjack table in about two minutes.

Perhaps the weirdest thing occurred during our tour of San Marco and the Doge’s palace.  We exchanged background info with a couple who turned out to be from Atlanta.  Rebecca thought they looked “arty” so I asked if they knew of Eyedrum.  Turned out Martha and Jay are friends of my sister Priscilla.

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge

We drove from Venice to Ravenna, where we uncharacteristically did not have a room reserved.  Our first impressions of the city were not particularly good.  We considered just blowing the joint, but wound up renting an apartment for the night from a local hotel.  Let’s just say the ambiance was not to our usual expectations.

Once we got unpacked and were able to walk into the old town, however, we were well rewarded for our perseverance.  The town was historically located at the end of Rome.  The Basilica di San Vitale is over 1500 years old, and features startlingly well-preserved mosaics above its sanctuary. There is a nearby baptistery with mosaics nearly as old.

Ancient mosaic dome in Ravenna.

Ancient mosaic dome in Ravenna.

We completed the day with dinner at an unlikely near restaurant, Ca’ Rossa.  Even though we’d had pizza and pasta ever night we’d been in Italy, the food and atmosphere were superb.  Best meal yet.

Alpe di Siusi

Helga, Rebecca and Vera on the road to Compatsch.

Helga, Rebecca and Vera on the road to Compatsch.

From our flat in Ortisei you can see the gondola that carries people like us to the next level, the Alpe di Siusi.  Even with guidebooks and hiking maps, it’s hard to believe what’s up there.

Val Gardena is a long narrow valley with the valley sides rising nearly vertically on both sides.  WP_20140902_004Ortisei is one of many small towns in the valley.  You can see a few of the rock faces of the Dolomites beyond the valley walls.   When you ride the gondola up the south side, you discover a whole nother valley, replete with roads, huts, hotels, buses, cows, and lots of huts.  There are a few huts for hikers, but most are or skiers.

Interestingly the area maps one picks up everywhere are oriented in concert with the valley, where most of the hotels are on the south-facing, north side.  Thus the maps have south at the top.

We hiked for about five hours.  We reached the “town” of Compatsch took anoher lift, and navigated the Bullaccia Puflatsch trail, elevation 2174 meters. Ortisei is at 1236 meters.  I just figured this out by looking at the trail map – I did not realize the difference was so dramatic.

Ortisie, nearly 1000 meters below.

Ortisie, nearly 1000 meters below.

From way up there you can see that there are a lot more Dolomite formations than are evident from Val Gardena.  You can also see snow-capped alps in the distance.  You van also see foul weather returning, which should accompany us on our journey to venice tomorrow.

Here especially for my golf buddies, is something else one might see in Compatsch,

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